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Choosing Your Path

Choosing Your Path helps unaccompanied refugee minors in Greece make positive decisions and realize their potential as young adults.

Photo of Divya Mishra
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Unaccompanied and separated minors (UAMs) travel dangerous routes across Asia and Africa without adult family members to protect them, usually with the help of a smuggler. When these minors arrive in Greece, they are often excluded from host communities due to legal, social, and cultural barriers. As a result, many maintain contact with smugglers and other black-market vendors, who may send them to work in exploitative agricultural fields or facilitate illegal travel to another country. Network for Children’s Rights (NCR) provides comprehensive support to UAMs who are homeless or living in unsafe conditions in Athens, Greece, including legal counsel, social services, psychological aid and a youth center where they can learn new skills and build relationships with peers. However, many UAMs are reluctant to tell child protection staff about high-risk paths they consider, such as leaving Athens to work as agricultural labor, participating in underground economies, or spending their savings on a counterfeit passport. Consequently, UAMs make these decisions without guidance from supportive child protection staff. To address this problem, “Choosing your Path” has a 2-part solution. First, the project incorporates narratives of former unaccompanied minors collected in 2018 by a Johns Hopkins University study into Network for Children’s Rights programming. Workshops facilitated by psychologists and cultural interpreters feature voices of former unaccompanied minors in a curriculum designed to promote integration in host communities. These workshops develop minors’ decision-making skills by discussing narratives that reflect their experiences, and help them deal with uncertainty in their lives by planning different life trajectories for possible scenarios. Secondly, “Choosing your Path”, uses NCR’s experience acquired through these workshops to develop and publish a toolkit for engaging UAMs which other child protection NGOs across the world can also put into practice.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

This idea focuses on UAMs living in Athens, Greece, as well as child protection staff. These minors come from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Bangladesh or Pakistan. They will either remain in Greece or move to other EU countries, legally or illegally, while others may be deported. Since underage refugees will not be eligible for most supportive services after they turn 18, preparing them for adulthood will have positive impact on local communities in Greece and in other countries.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Choosing Your Path builds a bridge of trust and communication between UAMs and the Greek child protection staff who support them. Through experiential exercises featuring narratives that reflect UAM’s experiences, like traveling with smugglers, homelessness, and exploitative labor arrangements, NCR de-stigmatizes these experiences. As a result, minors are more comfortable discussing and receiving guidance from staff. NCR’s toolkit will further help other NGOs build this bridge.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Choosing Your Path responds UAMs’ human need for a supportive and protective environment where they can learn to make positive, independent decisions in preparation for adulthood. Without adult family members for guidance, UAMs navigate culturally unfamiliar environments on their own, make high risk decisions with little guidance, and are often unable to imagine what their adult life might look like. To fill this gap, Choosing Your Path features experiential techniques and exercises featuring youth narratives to help UAMs collaboratively reason through their priorities and options. The curriculum helps UAMs harness their strengths and resources to achieve their dreams instead of only focusing on basic survival. Using the detailed personal narratives from the Johns Hopkins study, Choosing Your Path creates an open environment where UAMs are comfortable discussing high-risk decisions with staff, and staff can tailor their guidance to provide holistic support for UAMs’ needs.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

As a result of Choosing Your Path, UAMs more openly share the high-risk decisions they face with child protection staff. In turn, child protection staff are able to offer more targeted guidance and limit UAMs’ exposure to harm. Choosing your Path has implemented real-world scenarios where minors have practice reasoning through dilemmas they may face, like evaluating informal labor opportunities to send money back home vs. going to school, or attempting travel to another country vs. investing time in Greece. With support from OpenIDEO, NCR will be able to scale up the Choose Your Path curriculum to cover more topics. Over the course of the project, regular feedback will be elicited separately from NCR staff and Choose Your Path participants. For the next two years, the curriculum will be adapted based on ongoing feedback. After two years of monitoring and adapting, a toolkit to replicate this program will be made available so that other organizations can implement it.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

This idea was inspired by the results of a community-based study by Johns Hopkins University in 2018, which interviewed 44 UAMs who arrived in Greece after 2015 and were assisted by a variety of NGOs and children’s shelters. The study found that youth were unable to connect with staff who supported them. Asgar, who arrived from Afghanistan at age 16, said, “We need support, but the NGOs don’t support us. We could do positive things if they supported us, but they don’t seem to care.” In contrast, UAMs who felt that NGO staff were preparing them for adulthood made more effort to integrate into Greek society and were less likely to engage with exploitative underground economies. Tariq, who arrived at age 17 from Pakistan said, “I didn't want to go to school or do anything productive. Then…little by little I started to change my mind about school…The [NGO] staff, 2 or 3 of them are like my family…They pushed me, they said, ‘Finish your education, and then you can do whatever you want.”

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Protection services for UAMs in Greece are provided through a variety of organizations. The experiences that minors have vary greatly according to the organization they are placed in and the individual staff they interact with. When the advice that minors receive from NGO staff does not reflect their day-to-day experiences, they become disengaged, or even distrustful. This may even lead them to explore potentially dangerous alternatives, trying to once again travel illegally. However, when UAMs feel that NGO staff are genuinely invested in preparing them for adulthood, they often alter their plans based on the guidance they receive and have long term plans to integrate into their host societies. This is described by Ashraf (age 17 from Iran), who was encouraged to train as a mechanic by his social worker: “When I came from Iran, I didn't want to stay [in Greece], here I wanted to go to another country but I couldn’t. Now I am going to complete my studies before I go anywhere.”

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Choosing Your Path draws on NCR’s long-established relationships with members of refugee communities to implement its programming. Cultural mediators from refugee communities implement workshops alongside Greek psychologists. The design of workshop is done in collaboration with a former UAM who assisted the Johns Hopkins study that narratives are drawn from. Choosing Your Path is also part of the wider NCR environment where UAMs can build relationships with peers who have already made the transition to adulthood. NCR’s Youth Center, the youth-run newspaper “Migratory Birds,” and the Web-radio “Dandelion” allow youth to stay involved with the organization even after they turn 18 and help them build valuable skills. Young adults in these programs can act as mentors for Choosing Your Path participants. The strong relationship between youth and NCR staff is demonstrated by the fact youth share happy moments of their life with staff, like birthdays, school grades etc, even after age 18.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

The Choosing Your Path team includes the following partners: Mrs. Mado Liadopoulou and Mrs. Mania Pappa who worked as psychologists in child protection team and Dehghani Mohammad Sanich, Omar Hisham, Rizwan Mohammad and Ali Nawaz who worked as cultural mediators cultural mediators for languages Farsi, Arabic and Urdu at Network for Children’s Rights will be the responsible team for implementing workshops and experiential exercises as part of the project. Dr. Divya Mishra, who worked on the Johns Hopkins study that inspired this project. Mr. Nazari, who assisted the Johns Hopkins study and has lived experience as a former UAM from Afghanistan. Dr. Mishra and Mr. Nazari will develop workshop materials for the Choosing Your Path curriculum. Dr. Mishra will also collect ongoing feedback from NCR staff and project participants and oversee the development of a toolkit based on NCR’s experience.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Network for Children's Rights (NRC)

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Network for Children’s Rights [NCR] is a non-profit organization whose aim is to safeguard the rights of children as set out by the UNCRC [1989]. Our mission is to serve the best interests of the child. Our vision is a world in which all children grow up healthy and happy, their opinion is heard and their rights are respected. NCR has 15 years of experience in providing care, education and cultural activities to children and youth and their families in Greece regardless of ethnic origin, race, gender, religion or language. NCR brings a long standing presence in the Greek civil society and the child protection system and possesses vast knowledge and experience in the provision of psychosocial and legal support and empowerment of refugee, migrant and generally vulnerable children and youth. NCR operates in five places in the center of Athens with the main focus on educational and cultural activities for children and youth as well as child protection services and activities.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State



Join the conversation:

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh

Hi Divya Mishra thank you for sharing your idea and welcome to the Bridgebuilder Challenge 2019. The challenge's idea phase will be closing on 17th August. Could you clarify if you are working directly with the people on the move or young migrants in Greece? What are the results of the project so far in your pilot phase?

I would suggest also to have a look at our challenge brief: and our challenge evaluation criteria:

To help guide your research, you can have a look at our community research toolkit:, and possibly create and share with us the project user i.e. the young migrants journey map which is very important to integrate into this platform as you progress in the challenge!

Photo of Divya Mishra

Hi Bremley,

Thank you so much for your feedback. We work directly with unaccompanied refugee minors in Athens, Greece, but some of them may move on to other countries, some may remain in Greece, and some may be sent back to their home countries. Though we cannot predict the futures of individual young people, we prepare them for adulthood through critical decision-making, skill-building, and goal-setting workshops, so that they may thrive instead of just survive no matter where their futures take them. Some will remain in Greece for the long term, while others are likely to once again be on the move in the future. By basing our workshops on the actual lived experiences of former unaccompanied minors, we are better able to prepare these youth for the challenges they face.

The results of our pilot phase show the following:
1) When refugee minors see staff present vignettes of former unaccompanied minors' lived experiences (including sensitive topics like being homeless or trying to illegally board a ship to Italy), they are more open to acknowledging that they have faced similar situations and discussing what their priorities, concerns, and thought processes are in those situation.
2) When youth see their own experiences reflected in the workshop material, they are more engaged in the sessions.
3) When staff demonstrate awareness of the situations that unaccompanied minors face, the youth more frequently to seek their advice regarding relevant situations.
4) A workshop curriculum based on interview data from actual refugee youth helps NCR staff the tailor their guidance and intervention strategies to better suit the needs, culture, knowledge, and aspirations of the unaccompanied minors.

I hope this clarifies the issues you raised. We will be adding a user experience map shortly.